Not so appy

13th December 2013 at 00:00

I have a new mobile. If ever I needed evidence that I'm a "Timex watch in a digital age", then this phone is it. It has too many apps for a start. As my idea of being sociable is to grunt at my husband over breakfast or ring my sister on Boxing Day, then the arrival of Foursquare, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have over-egged my sociability pudding. In reality, all I need is one big button to make phone calls and another to send large-font texts.

Until now, I've managed well with new handsets, usually helped by an obliging teenager who would sooner watch his parents having sex than witness someone in comfortable slacks swiping the wrong part of the screen. I also strategically under-equip myself. If I can switch it on, switch it off and mute it in assembly, then that's enough for me.

But the hundreds of functions on this phone are getting in my way. Apps are like pans. You only need three: one for pasta, one for sauce, and one to collect the drips from the front bay window whenever it starts to rain. Once you have exceeded the optimum number of pans, your efficiency goes to pot. Remember what happened to Swiss Army knives? They kept adding more and more bizarre tools - tracheotomy scalpels, anemometers and folding nests of tables - until eventually you needed a Nepalese Sherpa to carry one out of the shop.

Mobile phones have become the Swiss Army knives of technology. With the flick of a finger, you can check the weather, calculate your pension and download Handel's Messiah. But I'm not convinced that these innovations have improved the quality of anyone's life. It might have been better if they'd worked on the battery life or supplying it with a tracking system so that you could find it down the back of the sofa. Or dedicated their money to coming up with a cure for cancer. Instead, they seem intent on finding more and more elaborate ways of wasting everyone's time.

The problem is that mobiles have evolved beyond their useful purpose. With phones, as with life, less is often more. If I leave a note asking my husband to wash the dishes, he'll do the job unquestioningly; if I add "and defrost the fridge and change the beds", he'll watch a programme about dolphins instead. Mobiles are prone to the same paradox. The more you do, the more they crash.

The same is true of the companies that supply them. The greater their range of options, the less effective their customer care. The only reason I have a new phone is because mine broke and the replacement one was full of someone else's texts. The provider's subsequent generosity (a new BlackBerry Q10) was to mollify my outrage and stop me lawyering up. But I'd much rather companies didn't leak personal details.

Diversity is the enemy of efficiency, not its new best friend. Corporations need to refocus their attention on the things that count. And I don't mean the calculator app.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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